Local business leaders overwhelmingly agree that Metro Detroit could be the next technology hub in the United States, according to the first survey of its kind from global management firm Accenture plc.
As Southeast Michigan attracts Silicon Valley businesses looking to strengthen ties in the automotive industry and automakers work to reinvent themselves into tech companies, the future for opportunities in technology-related fields in the region is bright with 80 percent of responses from 100 Metro Detroit businesses saying Detroit could become a technology leader nationally.
"I think automotive is going to be critical to Detroit; that's our foundation, our heritage," said Dan Garrison, Accenture's office managing director in Detroit. "But they are transforming their businesses and looking at their industries and what's happening to Detroit at large. It's not just an automotive city, because we're going to see it evolve into other industries."
Of the 100 local clients from the Dublin-based company, 86 percent said they plan to hire new tech talent in 2019. One-in-five said they would increase their tech workforce by more than 50 percent this year.
The top area for hiring was cybersecurity with 68 percent of business looking to hire in that expertise. Other expertise being sought is in artificial intelligence including machine learning with 64 percent of companies hiring and cloud expertise with 58 percent.
"Those are technologies and trends that are going to impact every single industry out there," Garrison said. "Detroit-based businesses are recognizing that. There's no leader in North America for artificial intelligence. They recognized this as a great opportunity to redefine their focus and obtain those skills."
Companies are not worried about recruiting that talent, with 72 percent responding they were confident they could find these hires in Metro Detroit.
If they are unable to fill these roles within the next year, however, 24 percent said they would face immediate failure, 33 percent said they would see a reduction in market share and 45 percent said they would be unable to innovate at the same pace.
Business leaders anticipated the areas they would have the most difficulty finding talent would be in artificial intelligence, blockchain and cybersecurity.
As a result, they also expressed interest in employee development. Training current employees with new skills is in the works for 37 percent of the businesses, and 28 percent expect to create an apprenticeship program.
Garrison said apprenticeship programs will be key to Detroit becoming the next technology hub. Accenture, he said, is working with several well-recognized companies on partnerships to set up such opportunities this year.
"They're looking at technical training," Garrison said, "and tapping into that junior talent and getting them into the workforce more quickly and aggressively than maybe in years past."
Meanwhile, to fill their growing tech needs, 32 percent of respondents said they will recruit contract workers, 29 percent said they plan to leverage external partnerships, and 28 percent are looking to acquire a company for its specialized skills.
Accenture itself moved its regional office in November from Southfield to downtown Detroit and promised in June with the opening of an innovation hub in Livonia that it would add 200 highly skilled technology jobs in the local market by the end of 2020